January 19, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On December 27 Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson set out to free-climb the Dawn Wall at Yosemite, something that had never been done and deemed by many to be impossible. In free-climbing the climber uses only her/his own hands and feet to climb; ropes are used only for safety and transport. On January 14, they completed the climb. A description of the wall in the New York Times gives a sense of the difficulty of what the climbers achieved: “The wall’s relentlessly smooth face has few cracks to penetrate or nubs to clench. One short section requires a sideways leap, feet and hands off the wall, to holds the size of matchsticks. There are overhangs. Water creeps through some of the few fissures, and ice periodically drops from above. A scale used to gauge difficulty ranks several parts of the Dawn Wall among the toughest to climb in the world.”


Climbing the Dawn Wall

“You’ve got to be mad to climb the Dawn Wall
Stark raving crazy to try it at all.
That rock monolithic can’t be free climbed
No way, I tell ya, no sense in your trying.”

But they studied the rock, with science and art,
They ate, drank and slept it, brain muscle and heart.
They plotted for years, they walked through each pitch
To trace out the route that “didn’t exist.”

They’d try it, they’d fail, they’d try it once more
They’d sum up lessons and fight the despair.
They forged a strong bond in rain and the sun
Driven, they knew, that the climb could be done.

Now high on Dawn Wall, they turn the thin cracks
To handholds, for leverage, to mount their attacks.
They sleep in a sling twelve hundred feet high
Above the abyss, beneath the starred sky.

Their fingers are bleeding—steady now steady—
Lotion and sand paper get their hands ready.
Six days at Fifteen,* Kev retraced his steps
Discovered his error, then on toward the crest:

The last stretch is taken, the summit in sight
Sheer beauty and awe from towering heights.
You said that they’re nuts to dare the Dawn Wall?
Not crazy—AUDACIOUS—to go for it all!

– Toby O’Ryan

*“Fifteen” is the name of a particularly difficult pitch.

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